Business owners say cannabis lounges will create “safe spaces” to consume

Business owners say cannabis lounges will create “safe spaces” to consume

Alyza Brevard-Rodriguez hopes to host community events, events like smoke and yoga sessions and cannabis comedy nights on the second floor of her soon-to-be-opened cannabis dispensary.

“I think it’s very important for us to create safe places to consume,” said Brevard-Rodriguez, owner of Other Side Dispensary in Jersey City. “But the other part of it is connecting with people … I think that’s really important to the cannabis culture.”

With the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission recently approving cannabis lounge regulations, his goal is now closer to reality. At the first meeting of the year last weekthe commission unanimously approved regulations allowing consumption areas near certain dispensaries.

Although the recreational cannabis will be available for sale in April 2022, there is virtually no legal place to consume marijuana other than in a private residence.

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Another Side Dispensary is expected to open in Jersey City in the summer of 2024. (Courtesy of the other party dispensary)

Regulations were first proposed December 2022, will enter into force in February. It’s unclear when the commission will begin accepting applications for the halls, but according to commission chairwoman Dianne Houenou, “a few more steps need to be taken” first.

There will be some general rules. No tobacco, alcohol or food products can be sold in the lounges, but people can have food delivered or bring their own food. The dispensaries will be restricted to people 21 or older who present a photo, the same restrictions for purchasing recreational marijuana in New Jersey.

Scott Rudder, president of the New Jersey Cannabusiness Association, welcomed the rules, noting that the first talks he had with policymakers about legalizing marijuana included discussions about lounges. Rudder said lounges would ensure consumers, especially medical marijuana patients and people living in federally subsidized housing, have a place to legally consume cannabis without jeopardizing their living conditions.

“That’s how the conversation started and evolved to where we are today,” he said. “Patients will have a nice place to consume their medicine, but now consumers in general will be able to go and relax, talk to friends, have dinner or watch musicians. We’re going to start small and see how things go.”

Rudder said he’s not concerned about rules banning food and drinks. Local breweries have found ways to partner with food trucks, he said, and halls with kitchens will end up with a different set of rules and regulations.

While several dispensaries scattered around the Garden State have already announced plans for dispensaries, Rudder said more businesses will wait to make their plans.

“I think you’ll see some consumer lounges open up here and there and people will wait and see what they do. Do they make money? Are they free of security issues or are other concerns implemented? People will look at it intelligently,” Rudder said.

Rudder also noted that some dispensary owners want to make a profit before expanding. He owns a yet-to-be-opened dispensary in Riverside, where a dispensary is “something that’s going to be a little further down the road,” he said.

Brevard-Rodriguez shares this sentiment. He wants his dispensary off the ground before opening his salon — he expects a grand opening in the summer of 2024.

He also noted that the Cannabis Regulatory Commission has set an initial fee of $5,000 and an annual fee for lounge approval (micro businesses will see a $1,000 fee). Getting the dispensary ready to open, on the other hand, is a more expensive and difficult process than other businesses he’s owned, he said.

The commission did not detail what the consumer salon application process would look like or what government permits business owners would need to secure for them.

Jon Cohn, investor in High Rollers Dispensary at the Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City thumbs up from town and started looking for employees to supervise his salon. The dispensary will be located on the former casino floor of the hotel.

Cohn criticized the commission’s move to require dispensary-only access to closed dispensaries, rather than allowing separate access.

“We want to grow as the business matures and regulations mature. Right out of the gate we understand it’s not going to be perfect,” he said.

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